THE LOCKHEED Martin/Boeing team is hurriedly revising plans for its second DarkStar unpiloted surveillance aircraft, following the destruction of the first aircraft in a crash at Edwards AFB, California, on 22 April.

The accident compounds already-serious delays to the Tier III Minus DarkStar programme, which is being developed to provide high-altitude reconnaissance data. The DarkStar was on only the second flight of the test programme. Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, which built the DarkStar with Boeing Defense and Space Group, reported eye witnesses saying, that " was just off the runway, when it began oscillating, pitched up and stalled".

Other eye witnesses say that the aircraft appeared to begin oscillating during the take-off roll and, following rotation, continued to oscillate until briefly becoming steady at around 10m (30ft). It then pitched up rapidly, until it was almost "beyond the vertical", before stalling and crashing to one side of the runway.

Investigators are expected to focus on the flight-control system software.

Source: Flight International